In my capacity as a grader, I’ve been reading a lot (and I do mean a lot) of undergrad close readings lately. I feel a little bit stuck in close-reading mode right now, so I’m going to look rather closely at a few more bits from Crooke’s “Praeface to the Chyrurgeons.”
Afterward I descend to the operations in particular, as to Division, Simple & Compound; Simple in Section & Ustion; Compound with Extraction and Extirpation. To Junction also, Simple and Compound, Simple in Adduction, Adaptation, and the way how to Conteine them so fitted together.
To begin with, there were some new vocabulary words for me in these sentences. According to the OED (I’ve underlined the definitions I think closest to Crooke’s use of these words):
Ustion, n. Obs. 1. The act of burning, or fact of being burnt. 2. a. The act of searing; cauterization. b. A place or surface presenting the appearance of being seared or cauterized. 3. fig. Concupiscence; libidinous desire. rare. [Instances of use provided range in date from 1567-1802.]
Extirpation, n. The action of extirpating. 1. The clearing (ground) of trees, etc. Obs. 2. a. The action of rooting up trees or weeds; total destruction. b. Surg. The operation of removing, by excision or the application of caustics, anything having an inward growth. 3. The action of extirpating or rooting out; extermination: a. of a nation, family, sect, species, etc. b. of an immaterial thing, e.g. heresy, a religion, vice, etc.
Adduction, n.1 1. a. The action or process of conveying something, esp. toward another; the fact of being so conveyed. Now rare. b. The action of moving towards something. Obs. rare. c. In the writings of medieval and Renaissance theologians, esp. Duns Scotus: the action or process by which Christ’s body is brought into the bread during the Eucharist; an instance of this. hist. in later use. 2. Anat. and Zool. The action of bringing a part of the body toward the median plane or midline, or of bringing two parts together. Also: the condition of being adducted. 3. The bringing forward of facts or statements as evidence; an instance of this.
In the larger passage from which I’ve drawn these lines, Crooke describes the instructions he has included in his anatomy volume. He explains that first his reader must have “knowledge of the healthfull and sound constitution which is the rule of the rest”; he can then proceed to describe certain diseases “so farre as it necessarie a Chyrurgeon should know.” The barber-surgeons, of course, only need to be familiar with those diseases that might require manual manipulation of the body to heal; all other diseases are the territory of the physicians. Crooke proceeds, “In the next place I handle the Operations of Chyrurgery in generall, where you have all the Instruments of your Art”; he says he provides a catalog and description of the various tools the barber-surgeons might use.
Crooke’s use of the word “art” in reference to the practice of anatomy is one of the first things about his writing that caught my attention. For me, that term denotes a certain right-brained approach to the matter at hand; it implies creativity, flexibility, imagination. However, when I looked the word up in the OED, I was surprised to discover that the first definition of “art” is “skill; its display, application, or expression.” When I think of skill, I think of rigidity, discipline, repetition. Crooke, as a physician, is clearly trying to improve the barber-surgeons skills by providing them with an anatomy manual in the vernacular; however, the tension between the two groups, the physicians and the barber-surgeons, is constantly present in Crooke’s rhetoric. He alternately refers to “your Art” and “our Art.” I’ll have to keep a close eye on how this carries out in the rest of the volume, but in the preface at least it appears to me that Crooke uses “your Art” when he wants to instruct the barber-surgeons on the technical aspects of anatomy and “our Art” when he is writing about the philosophical aspects of anatomy practice. Although their specific professional roles may clearly delineate the physicians from the barber-surgeons, the ethical (“Philosophicall”) concerns both groups face may be one way of uniting them.
When Crooke “descend[s] to the operations in particular,” I think he uses “descend” in the sense of getting “down” to business. He has just described the various surgery tools, and now he is going to explain their proper use. One of the things to remember about this anatomy manual is that Crooke doesn’t just write about dissecting cadavers; he talks about the body as a whole, the body’s constituent parts, and how to heal and repair the living body. This book may have served as a manual for actual anatomies conducted in the barber-surgeons’ hall, but there’s plenty of other information that goes above and beyond that service included as well. To return to our vocab words above, “ustion,” “extirpation,” and “adduction,” as the OED definitions help illustrate, are all concerned with specific kinds of “operations” barber-surgeons would have conducted on their living patients (the poor souls—none of these sounds very pleasant).
Looking ahead: In the way of a bit of a preview, I’m getting ready to read a rather more recent piece of nonfiction prose: Body of Work: Meditations on Mortality from the Human Anatomy Lab by Christine Montross (2007). This semester I’m taking a Bioethics & Humanities seminar over at the medical school; I’m the only humanities student involved, but the med students have been very welcoming, and one lovely woman who was an English major as an undergraduate lent me this book when she heard about my anatomy interests. Here’s the blurb from the back of the book (categorized as “autobiography/personal memoir”):
Christine Montross was nervous as she waited outside the anatomy lab on her first day of medical school. But a strange thing happened when Montross met her cadaver. Instead of being disgusted by her, she found herself utterly fascinated—intrigued by the person the woman once was and humbled by the strange, unsettling beauty of the human form. They called her Eve.
The story of Montross and Eve is a tender and surprising examination of the mysteries of the human body, an eye-opening account of the history of cadaveric dissection, and a remarkable look at our relationship with both the living and the dead.
At the very least, I’m sure it will be an enjoyable read. My higher hopes are that it might help me step back from Crooke at look at some of the larger concepts that are of interest to me here so that I can adjust and refocus my larger aims and take another step closer to conceiving a workable dissertation project. If there’s anything that illuminates the Crooke book directly, I’ll blog about it here.
For this post I want to return to Crooke’s text, looking at a specific phrase in the second paragraph of “The Praeface to the Chyrurgeons.” The first part of this passage reads as follows:
In the next place shall follow a Discourse of the constitution of mans body, as he enjoyeth a perfect or apportioned health by a due Mixture of the principles whereof he consisteth; of the Temperament of each part arising from that mixture; of the Offices or Functions proceeding from that temperament, and such other things as will fall in with the same. For as it is a rule in Geometry, that Rectum est index sui & obliqui, That which is Right measureth both it selfe and that which is crooked; so in our Art, he that knowes what should bee the natural disposition of everie part will be best able to judge when Nature declineth from that integrity, and how far the declination is from the true and genuine constitution. This part indeede is Philosophicall, but I shall make it so plaine, if God will, that a very reasonable capacity shall be able to apprehend it.
The underlining is mine; Crooke’s mention of geometry caught my attention because it immediately brought to mind one of my favorite articles, “Lessons from Literature for the Historian of Science (and Vice Versa): Reflections on ‘Form'” by Henry S. Turner (currently of Rutgers), published in the journal Isis in 2010. When I first read Turner’s piece a year ago it helped me begin to sketch out what interdisciplinary work between literary studies and the history of science might and should look like. I’ve had difficulty tying my disparate interests together and focusing them into a conceivable project for graduate studies in an English department, and this article was quite helpful to me in articulating some of what I envisioned.
What made me think of Turner’s article when I subsequently re-read this line from Crooke is the specific use of the geometry metaphor. In this paragraph, Crooke describes the way he has constructed his anatomy; he attempts to explain its form. As part of Turner’s discussion of form, he notes
In my own work on early modern English drama and its debt to modes of prescientific thought, I sought to combine all four notions of form [stylistic, structural, material, and social] along with a fifth: mathematical notions of form that were typical of geometry in both its speculative and practical varieties. Geometry provides one of the oldest and most enduring ways of thinking about the problem of form (the geometrical “statement” is, in the end, purely a formal one); in the late sixteenth century, mathematical notions of form that were primarily structural, spatial, and quantitative began to compete with rhetorical notions of form that were primarily linguistic, stylistic, and qualitative, with the result that early modern writers began to develop new ideas of form for their poems and plays. (581)
Turner goes on to cite examples of early modern authors—Philip Sidney, Thomas Dekker, Ben Jonson—drawing on fields such as cartography and carpentry to help form their writing.
For modern readers, an anatomical text that references geometry might not be notable; in our contemporary mindset, math and science go hand in hand. But my sense of early modern medical practices does not jive with that. In this very passage (and extensively elsewhere), Crooke refers to anatomy as “our Art.” He and his fellow physicians were university trained, but the barber-surgeons Crooke addresses this preface to are apprenticed and unschooled. Crooke is trying to convey technical medical knowledge to a relatively illiterate (at least, by early modern standards) bunch. In order to be successful, he has to put that specialized information into a form they can process.
This is why I find Mikrokosmographia such fertile ground (don’t think about that metaphor too hard) for exploring rhetorical construction in the early modern period. I see plenty of evidence within the text to support the notion that Crooke is, above all else, trying to make his book accessible. I haven’t yet fully explored this, but my hypothesis is that he is heavily influenced by classical and contemporary creative writing in the construction of his protoscientific text. Sawday briefly notes this possibility in The Body Emblazoned, and Elizabeth Harvey wrote an article on Spenserian allegory in one part of Crooke’s text; I plan to build on their work for a conference paper I’ll be presenting at PAMLA in October. But this instance of geometry in “The Praeface to the Chyrurgeons,” interpreted via Turner, may be another piece of supporting evidence. Like Sidney, Dekker, and Jonson, and perhaps in imitation of them, Crooke draws on geometry to help give form to his text. As he explains, “This part indeede is Philosophicall, but I shall make it so plaine, if God will, that a very reasonable capacity shall be able to apprehend it”; by drawing on the tangible concept of geometry to give shape to the intangible philosophical aspects of his text, Crooke believes he will be able to convey his information even to those of “reasonable [and not exceptional] capacity,” the barber-surgeons.
Addendum – 9/8/12: As I may have mentioned, I was really, really tired when I wrote this post; Fridays after teaching may not be the best time to blog, as it turns out. Anyhow, I’m not going to fuss with it (muddled as it is), but I do want to clarify my main point: Crooke’s use of a geometry metaphor is unremarkable, but the fact that he’s using it specifically to describe the form of his text is, I think, significant.